It can happen in a split second, but it will cause problems big time: what to do when you lose your passport abroad?
Last year I had my purse pick-pocketed four weeks into a six month trip around Latin America. I’m usually pretty careful at keeping my currency safe and separate and therefore all I lost was the equivalent of £5 in cash and one cash card. A little bit of a pain yes, but no big deal. It did, however, make me think about what on earth I would do if I had all my worldly possessions taken from me in some far-flung corner of the globe.
Most travellers don’t experience any trouble whilst off on their adventures, but it is worth knowing the precautions to take before you go, while you are away, and what to do if you lose your passport abroad. Here are a few tips that will help to keep your travels as stress-free as possible.
Before you go
1. It’s best to take at least two forms of ID e.g. passport and driving/provisional driving license photo card.
2. Take 3 or 4 passport photos with you. You will need these should you lose or have your passport stolen abroad and require a replacement.
3. Photocopy (in colour) your ID e.g. the picture page of your passport and both sides of your driving license photo card. I usually laminate the photocopy of my passport. This can be done at your local library and is pretty cheap. Keep your copies safe in a waterproof folder in your backpack.
4. Depending on the destination(s) you are visiting, you may require certain visas or vaccinations to enter the country. In this case, it’s advisable to photocopy any pre-arranged visas and proof of vaccinations should you lose the original document. Keep these in a folder with your ID photocopies.
5. Scan all of the above-mentioned documents, as well as your birth certificate, and email to yourself. This way you should be able to access them from anywhere with internet connection.
6. Email yourself a copy of your flight tickets. This is much easier to do nowadays, since most airlines provide e-tickets.
7. When travelling, especially in developing countries, I tend to take a mix of money. It’s up to you to decide what to take and it also largely depends on where you are travelling to. On long trips to multiple destinations, I tend to carry the following:
- Credit card – for emergencies
- Debit card
- One or two pre-paid currency cards
- US$100 – US dollars are widely accepted so I tend to keep $100 stuffed somewhere in my backpack for emergency cash
- A small amount of local currency – I tend to take enough for the first couple of days, until I’ve had a chance to recover from jetlag and locate the nearest ATMs.
8. Make a note of the number to call in order to cancel your bank cards should you lose them. Keep this in a safe place – I usually email this to myself.
9. I usually make one of my parents a joint-account holder when I’m travelling for an extended period of time. I found this very useful when I needed to cancel one of my currency cards but they would only refund the money to me by cheque to my UK address – not very helpful when I was in Buenos Aires. My parents were able to cash the cheque and transfer the money to one of my other accounts for me to access.
Whilst on your travels
1. Don’t keep all of your money in the same place. If going out for the day, take only the money you need for the day and leave the rest in a secure locker or safety deposit box at your accommodation.
2. It’s not wise to carry your passport around with you at all times. If there is somewhere safe and secure to do so, then leave it at your accommodation. Of course in some countries you are required to carry ID on you at all times. In this case I will usually carry my driving license on my person as well as a photocopy of my passport.
3. Depending on where I’m travelling to, I occasionally take a money belt that can be concealed underneath clothing. This makes it almost impossible for somebody to take your money without you knowing about it.
4. When travelling from place to place, or when in a position where your backpack is to be separated from you, make sure you keep all of your money and important documents on your person.
For example, when taking a coach from one city to another, backpacks are usually stored below or on the roof. To save yourself worrying every time the bus stops make sure that you are carrying anything you would miss if lost with you. For me this is usually money, passport and camera.
What to do if you lose your passport abroad
If you find yourself in a position where all of your money and ID has been lost or stolen then you are in a bit of a pickle, but it’s not the end of the world.
1. First and foremost you should get a police report. For insurance purposes, it is best to do this immediately and certainly within 24 hours if possible.
A police report is vital when without money and identification in a foreign country. You will also need to show your police report when you come to apply for an emergency passport.
2. Next you should head to your embassy or consulate. If you explain your situation to them and show your police report, they should be able to find your details on their system. British nationals have to pay for an emergency passport. If you have enough money on you to do so, then you can purchase one at this stage. If not, then the embassy/consulate can provide you with stamped confirmation of your passport details.
Staff at the embassy or consulate should also be able to offer you advice regarding legal representation if needed. It’s also worth bearing in mind that consulate/embassy documentation will help support a travel insurance claim.
3. Next you should find somewhere offering free internet. This could be a local library, a fellow traveller or possibly use of the internet at your hostel or hotel. By accessing your email account you should then be able to print the scanned copies of your ID that you originally emailed to yourself.
You can also use Skype or Facebook to contact friends and family at home and arrange for money to be sent to you for collection at the nearest Western Union. It can take as little as a few hours for the money to be wired. Your family and friends may also be able to help you arrange accommodation if needed.
If you struggle to find free internet, you could always try explaining your situation and showing your police report to staff at internet cafes. Most people will be sympathetic and helpful. Alternatively, you could ask to use the telephone at the police station when obtaining your police report.
4. You can collect the money that has been wired to you at a Western Union, provided you have photographic ID. You should be able to collect your money using the ID you have printed and by showing your police report and embassy/consulate document.
5. Once you have received the wired money, you can head back to your embassy or consulate to purchase an emergency passport.You will be able to use this passport to return to your home country via a maximum of 5 countries.
Hopefully after reading this blog, you can head off on your travels knowing exactly what to do if you lose your passport abroad. With any luck you will never find yourself in this position but, by following the tips I’ve laid out in this blog, you will give yourself a much better chance of avoiding such a situation. Furthermore, should the worst happen, you will have saved yourself a lot of hassle by planning in advance.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.